As an investor, founder, CEO and business book author, I write about startups, design, how to build a good business, and I like to muse about culture in any form.

Five Tips for Non-Toxic Networking (part one)

This photo has nothing to do with this post, it just made me laugh.

People tell me I am a power networker.  I don’t see myself that way at all.  I secretly prefer a book to a conference, any day.  However, when at a business event I make the most of it and actually enjoy all the conversation and new connections–as long as I can go home and be alone afterward!  But a young entrepreneur recently reminded me how hard it is to learn to “network,” and he asked me to share some simple tips.  I agreed, so here they are:

1. Firstly don’t “network” at all.  Just be a helpful person. There were long stretches of my career when I did not “need” to actively network.  I was in big companies with full internal capabilities.  As such, resourcefulness was not a key success factor in those jobs.  But I still enjoyed meeting people, keeping in touch, and helping them out.  Although I did it for the pure joy of being useful, when I landed back in start-up land, it proved to be very important to have a strong professional “bank account” to tap when I really needed it.  As an entrepreneur one is constantly asking for help.  (At least once an hour it seems.)

2. Send short emails.  If you are reaching out to someone for the first time, your email should be no more than two short paragraphs.   Make a mental image of how you would behave if you were unexpectedly interrupting the person washing their hands in an office bathroom.  Make it snappy, because they are trying to get on to the next important thing in their day.   The structure is roughly this:

  • Tell the person how you found them, ideally through an introduction
  • Say something personal to them so they know you are not just sending a standard outreach email
  • Describe yourself or your company in two or three sentences, making sure that at least one of those sentences includes an unusual adjective or some other indicator that you are a human being, not a robot.  Humor, insight, humility, or honesty would be best.
  • Close with a specific request.  Like “I know you are extremely busy, but if you can chat for 20 minutes between Monday and Wednesday next week, I will make myself available to your schedule.”

3.  When meeting in person, come with a “target” list. If you are networking for a job, or trying to get in front of a specific set of people or companies, bring a list of those prospects.  So few people actually do that, and it is so refreshing when they do.  It immediately focuses the conversation.  In my case, it also taps my subconscious ego of wanting to be effective for you.  I will feel bad if I can’t get you to at least one person on that list.  You will also make me work harder to expand your list if I can understand your general areas of interest.

4.  Follow up with a brief thank you. Most importantly, include a bullet point “to-do” list of the intros or other assists the person you met has offered.  I have developed a rule.  If I don’t get that email and list, I do not follow up.  Why?  Because I might have reeled off four ideas in the meeting and I want you to go back and investigate them further and confirm they are worthwhile.  Many of my ideas might not really be great for your purposes,  and I want you to cull the misfires.  Similarly, no one taps their own network casually…it’s important to see seriousness of intent before making a connection.

5.  Tell the person who helped you what happened. I will admit this step is very hard to remember to do, and I fall down on it too much myself.  But it is simple.  If I refer you to The Agha Khan, tell me what happened in the meeting with Aggie.  And if you are on a job quest, tell me where you landed.  If you are raising money, let me know you succeeded (or failed…no dishonor in that).

I have some further thoughts on how to build a life-long network and also the effective administration of that effort, for a future post.  But the main point I want to make today is that this networking effort is not so much about being charming, witty, or articulate.  (That’s far too intimidating!)   It is about getting the mechanics right, and putting yourself in the position of the person across the table, to help them help you.

7 Responses to “Five Tips for Non-Toxic Networking (part one)”

  1. Dan Weinreb

    I do lots of networking and totally agree with all of this. You’re so right to put “helping” as the number one item. Mutual assistance is the very essence of networking.

  2. Bruce MacDougall

    Sound advice . I particularly liked the item about closing the loop whatever the outcome. Thanks.

    • julespieri

      Bruce, as I mentioned this is by far the hardest part for me. I guess because there can be quite a bit of time elapsed between meeting someone and whatever outcome you were seeking. I am pretty organized but I have never figured out how to map that out for follow up. For instance, I might put someone in my address book, or LinkedIn but I would not think to tag them with a future action, like “job outcome.” And it would be too much work to make groups for every new contact. Any ideas?

      • Dan Weinreb

        Definitely LinkedIn, but I don’t have any solution to the other problems you mention. I don’t think I know enough about any particular person to know what tags I’d put on each, although maybe if I thought about it more I would…

  3. edisonet

    From the Old Dog of start-up Edisonet who introduced himself across the seafood bar last night at the NYC. Your working wisdom (above) is outstanding and should be required reading for everyone, young and old. It’s good counsel… full stop!

    We all need to learn from wise people like you, Jules
    My mission is to make that happen more frequently.

    Also, congrats to the CMU grad and to his proud mom.

    • julespieri

      Thanks for introducing yourself “Old Dog”. You looked pretty rambunctious to me. 🙂 Thanks for chiming in in this ideas too.


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